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The angel who spoke with me returned and woke me…He said to me: "What do you see?"
I said: "…There is a Menorah made entirely of gold… with its seven lamps upon it… and two olive trees are next to it."(Zechariah 4:1-3)
The Prophet Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. Both were active it the period between the return of 42,360 Jews to the Holy Land from Babylon under Cyrus of Persia's decree, and the building of the Second Temple. His prophesies in the second year of the reign of Darius I of Persia - around 520 BCE - would place him among the latter generation of Biblical prophets.
G-d's visions to Zechariah took place at a time when that community, in the process of resettling its much-devastated homeland, was becoming demoralized. Various factions in Persia succeeded in persuading Cyrus to rein in his encouragement of the Return, culminating in his decision to forbid the Israelites to reconstruct the Temple (Ezra 4:5,24), which held good until he was succeeded by the more benevolent Darius I.
Some eighteen years after their return, the Israelites had still made no move to rebuild the Temple. That date was seventy years after the Destruction of the First Temple - the final possible date for redemption (Daniel 9:2). At that time Darius had not given his royal assent, and there had been no sign from Heaven proclaiming the onset of the redemption. On the contrary, things seemed to be going from bad to worse. The Israelites were becoming more and more skeptical. As Haggai, Zechariah's contemporary, put it: "You have sown much, but you brought in little. You eat, but you are not satisfied. You drink, but you are not quenched. You clothe yourself, but no one is warmed. And the one who earns, earns in vain." (Haggai 1:6)
Zechariah, together with Haggai, encouraged the Israelites to rebuild the Temple without permission from Persia. Encouraged by their leaders, Zerubabel, and Joshua the High Priest, the people did as the prophet commanded. The Persian overseers, as expected, immediately reported them to the emperor, but Darius, for reasons not currently known, suddenly changed his mind. Not only did he allow them to continue to build the Temple, but also actually assisted by ordering those overseers to assist the Israelites in their sacred task - including supplying them with raw materials and animals for Temple offerings.
The Book of Zechariah has two distinct parts. The first eight chapters (which include this Haftara) prophesize, in the form of detailed visions, the restoration of Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Temple, the purification of G-d's people, and the Messianic Age to come. The last six chapters contain a series of messages about the expected Messiah and the details of the final judgment.
This Haftara is also read on Shabbat Chanukah. For its contents speak of the oncoming of an earlier Chanukah: Zechariah's prophetic vision of the inauguration of Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum) in the then future Second Temple. Joshua was the High Priest, Zerubabel was the leader of the nation, scion of the Davidic dynasty, and Zechariah was one of the prophets who conveyed this vision. The Haftara opens by looking ahead to the times when all the world will acknowledge Israel's primacy as G-d's chosen people under the leadership of the tribe of Judah, the tribe of David.
Then the Prophet turns to Joshua, who was the victim of the same sin that plagued much of the nation in the wake of the Babylonian Exile. According to Jewish tradition, his sons had married gentile women, and he had failed to chastise them. In his vision, Zechariah sees the Satan condemning Joshua for his shortcomings, which was symbolized by the filthy garments he was wearing in Zechariah's own vision. But G-d defends Joshua on the grounds that he is a firebrand rescued from the flames: he was immersed in the conflagration of the Exile's physical and spiritual destruction, and could not be fully blamed for the past. So the angel gives him a new start - he clothes him in the priestly garments - but warns him that henceforth he must obey all the commandments.
Afterwards, Zechariah's communication from G-d shows a vision - a Menorah - complete with a bowl containing oil, with tubes bringing oil to its seven lamps, and two olive trees to assure a constant supply of fuel. Its deeper meaning and symbolism (elaborated on below) have been a light to the Jewish nation ever since.
The text brings the Angel's interpretation of the Menorah and the olive tree:
'This is the word of G-d to Zerubabel: "Not through armies and not through might, but through My Spirit," says G-d, the Master of Legions. "Who are you, O great mountain, to stand before Zerubabel? You shall become a plain!" (Zech. 6-7)
Thus impassible mountains become hospitable plains if G-d so wills. The most stubbornly bolted doors have been known to open against remarkable odds to those with great courage of their convictions, persistence and faith. That was demonstrated following Zechariah's prophecy in the Jews' defiance of the Persian regime in building the Second Temple - which gave them the most crucial and unexpected ally of the Emperor Darius I himself. It also is a major theme of the events taking place nearly four hundred years later, in the events celebrated by Chanukah - where warriors, who selflessly put their faith in G-d, managed to wrest the Jews in the Holy Land free from the Hellenist Empire.
Indeed, of all the miracles that took place during the Hasmonean revolt, the one that gets most attention is the case of where a sole one-day's supply of pure oil burnt for eight days. The symbolism of Zechariah's Menorah was repeated virtually to the last detail in the struggle for national freedom against extremely powerful odds.
No other single item in the Temple gets the same attention in Zechariah's vision as the Menorah. Its symbolism was to bring hope, and eventual spiritual and economic prosperity. So long as the lamp is not extinguished, its light burns upwards even in the most chilling circumstances.
The Book of Proverbs writes that 'the candle of G-d is the soul of the human being'. (Prov. 20:27) Every day, on waking from sleep, we thank G-d for restoring our souls to us. As long as we live, 'the candle of G-d' - in the essence of our personalities - burns within us.
Haggai and Zechariah successfully encouraged a demoralized nation. They caused the candles within in the people to burn upwards, to the extent that they could place their faith in G-d, and spiritually and physically rebuild the parts of the Holy Land on which they settled.
Some time ago, I read (and tried) the following piece of advice. 'On the stroke of every hour, say a nice word to someone. Shows them that what they do is valued.'
When a person feels encouraged, wanted, and needed, his or her flame burns within. He or she gains in happiness, confidence, and self-respect - and can face situations and challenges with self-confidence and success, instead of failure and despair. That genuine and nice remark will be remembered - often long after the material gifts have fallen to floor or been covered with dust in the attic. Unlike other gifts, a nice word costs nothing - and takes nothing away from the person who gives it. Like the candle of the Menorah, it can give light to many other lamps without losing any luster of its own…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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